Monthly Archives: May 2013

Why Shacking Up Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Couples who shack up before marriage are more likely to divorce, experience domestic violence, have sexual and emotional problems, and be involved in affairs. Yet, regardless of the statistics, people continue to do it.

The myth couples use to justify shacking up is that by living together before marriage, they can “test drive the car” and have a more satisfying and longer-lasting marriage. But it’s just the opposite.  People shack up because they are skittish about commitment and, therefore, more likely to call it quits when problems arise.

In addition, couples who shack up actually lose objectivity because they’re not looking at the relationship from a distance.  They literally haven’t had the “space” to step back and objectively consider whether this person is truly the best match for them.  Instead, they sort of just drift into marriage.

Another reason not to shack up: You won’t have a healthy relationship with your extended family.  A supportive extended family is one of the things that makes a marriage work.  However, moms, dads, siblings, and other family members are not going to expend as much effort, caring, and commitment to you as a couple when it’s an iffy situation.  People often forget that and then complain about their family not treating their shack-up stud or honey like family. Well hell, if you want them to be treated like family, make them family!

Quite frankly, if you shack up, you are basically saying that your future marriage isn’t valuable enough to be worth waiting and making tough sacrifices for.  I love it when people shack up and then demand a traditional wedding. How can you choose to live in a tremendously untraditional way and still expect your parents to cough up the money for a traditional party?  If a kid wants to slap the face of tradition, they are on their own.

Finally (and most importantly), shacking up hurts kids.  If (and usually when) a woman gets pregnant in a shack-up situation, there is a high probability that the sperm donor will split within two years, which results in a never-married-single-mom raising a fatherless child. A guy who is screwing a woman without laying down his life for her doesn’t want to be a dad – he’s just getting off.

In my opinion, the best way to test your compatibility for marriage and reduce your chances of divorce to almost nothing is:

1) Don’t have sex until you’re married.
2) Date for at least one year before you get engaged.  
3) Participate in a structured premarital counseling program which includes psychological testing. 

However, I know most of you are not going to do that.  So, operate at your own risk – or rather, the risk of your kids.

When Parents of Adult Children Remarry

A parent’s remarriage is not only extremely tough on minor kids, but it’s a touchy subject for adult children as well.  Be it death or divorce, you may feel like you’re still grieving the loss of your mom or dad while your other parent has simply moved on.

However, adult kids have to put themselves in their parent’s shoes.  Your parent may have had a very long, good marriage (except for the ending), and now they no longer have a companion or best friend. They may feel lonely and long for that connection again, and they often find it with another spouse.

So, how can an adult child better adjust to their parent’s remarriage? Here are some tips:

1. Don’t be negative.  Though your parent doesn’t need to ask your permission to get remarried, they would probably like your support.  Being negative won’t stop the marriage, and it will only create bad feelings between you and your parent.

2. Don’t compare.  Don’t measure the new spouse (“the stepparent”) against your own mom or dad.  It’s not about you – it’s about your parent being happy.

3. Accept the situation.  “Acceptance” is a word I use a lot with callers on my program. It’s a very important part of moving on because it means you’re no longer fighting something.  When your parent gets married again, hopefully they are going to be happy and find joy.  That may be hard for you to accept or like, but you need to do it if there is going to be peace.  The first thing you can do is get on board.  Accept the new “stepparent” and do everything you can to make them feel welcome in the family.  Break your back trying to do that instead of treating them like an outsider.

4. Show respect.  You may have to dig down deep sometimes to find something good about your parent’s new spouse, but you need to show respect because you’re sharing your parent with them.  Your parent may marry someone who isn’t very nice.  If that happens, you’re screwed, but you can be less screwed if you do your best to kiss up to them as best you can.  Fake it.  Make believe.  When you go home, you can brush your teeth, but while you’re there, you’ve got to act sweet no matter what. Otherwise, you’re not going to see your mom or dad.

5. Don’t expect love or affection either way – ever.  Maybe love and affection will develop. If it does, terrific, but if it never does, it’s not the end of the world.  Not everybody is an emotional match.

6. If the new spouse has children or grandchildren, understand that “the female runs the roost.”  If your dad marries a woman with kids, her kids are going to have priority unless your dad is very strong.  And even if he is strong, he may abdicate his strength for the sake of not wanting to be alone.

The bottom line is that people tend to be more emotional about things the closer they are to them.  For example, if there’s a disaster somewhere in the world, the first thing you want to know is if there were any Americans involved and if any of those hurt were from your state, city, or neighborhood.  The closer they are to you, the more emotional you feel. A similar dynamic is at play in stepfamilies.  You don’t feel the same way about your father’s new wife as you do about your own mom.  However, a word to the (hopefully) wise: make it seem as though you do.  Human beings have developed ways of appearing to be open and friendly (bowing, shaking hands, smiling, offering bread, etc.), and I suggest you use them all.  Feelings usually develop in a better way over time if you put forth these efforts.

*A quick note to parents who are remarrying with adult kids:

Don’t put your spouse’s kids in your will.  Only your own kids should be in your will, and by the same token, you shouldn’t expect your spouse to put your kids in theirs.  In addition, I suggest signing a prenup and making sure that all insurance policies are clear about who is a beneficiary.

This is why I recommend six months of premarital counseling to ALL couples considering marriage so that issues like finances (and whose family you’ll be seeing during the holidays!) can all be sorted out objectively.  I even believe that at some point during the process of creating a stepfamily with adult kids, everyone in the families should come in for counseling and discuss the potential problems, difficulties, and jealousies which could arise.

How to Know You’re Ready for Marriage

You’ve dated around, had a couple of long-term relationships, and hopefully figured out which qualities are important to you and what makes a relationship work. Now you’re faced with the inevitable question, “Am I ready to get married?”

For women, the most important signs are:

  1. You share similar goals.  If you and your guy have different priorities, you’re going to end up being disappointed. For example, a woman called my show the other day complaining that her husband had moved their family 13 times in as many years to satisfy his appetite for wanderlust (which is a HORRIBLE thing for kids).  Before you consider marriage, ask yourself and your partner about where you want to live, if you want to have kids, and religious views.  Find out what the deal breakers are.
  2. You don’t want to change him.  Similar to buying a dress from the store, when you get married, you take your man “as-is”.  Sure, you might be able to tweak him a little bit, but you can’t fundamentally change him.  If you don’t accept that, you’re going to end up frustrated and bitchy.  You don’t have to adore everything about him, but you do have to make peace with the fact that on Sunday afternoons it’s him and ESPN, and you’re not going to change that.
  3. You connect on more than just a physical level.  A very small percentage of marriage is spent in passionate lovemaking.  You need to know that you can have fun together and enjoy each other when your clothes are ON.
  4. You can see past your wedding day.  Many women are bridezillas: They are so focused on their wedding and being the center of the universe in their stunning white gown that they lose sight of their fiancé and the whole concept of marriage.
  5. You can talk to each other.  You know you’re ready to get married when you can talk things out rationally (without yelling or screaming) and not let issues get pushed under the rug without being resolved.
  6. Everyone you know says your guy is fab.  It’s fine if a few family members or friends aren’t huge fans (you can’t please everybody), but if everyone you know hates this guy, they might be on to something.  Your family and friends know you, and they can look at the situation objectivity. If they’re reasonably nice people, pay attention to them, otherwise your marriage is going to be a constant acid drip.

Guys, on the other hand, start feeling ready for marriage when the singles scene just doesn’t appeal to them anymore, and they stop wanting to bed hot girls that they can’t have conversations with afterward.  Men have biological clocks, but it has nothing to do with making babies. It has to do with being financially stable and settled in their careers.  Most college educated men don’t consider marriage as a possibility until at least 26, and they don’t enter a phase of high commitment until the ages of 28-33.  Guys who have gone to graduate school hit their commitment peak even later (30-36).

Here are some signs that a guy is NOT ready to get married:

  1. He’s financially unstable. If a guy is still struggling to pay his bills, he’s not ready to get married or take on the extra burden of a family.  In addition, if he buys a very expensive car for himself instead of saving up for a ring or your future, he’s not interested in marriage.
  2. He won’t commit.   If a guy is unable to commit to a job, family or friends, then he can’t be counted on.
  3. You have to talk him into it.  If he says he’s not interested in getting married, don’t try to change his mind – believe him.
  4. He calls his married friends “losers” or “stupid.”  A guy who thinks having a family is cute is much more ready to become a husband and a father.
  5. He continually makes you cry (and I’m not talking about tears of happiness).  If he’s unreliable, abusive, a liar, a cheater, or a flirt, you need to divorce yourself from this relationship BEFORE you’re married.

Above all: use your brain.  Don’t get married when you’re in the throes of the early stages of a relationship. Fantasies are not the stuff that long-term relationships are built on.

Kids Lose When Parents Play Favorites

Favoritism exists throughout the animal kingdom.  Most species nurture the strongest of their offspring, which have the most promise of propagating their genetics into the future.  The wussy and wimpy ones, on the other hand, usually get eaten.  So when it comes to humans, it makes sense biologically that parents play favorites amongst their children.

Parents are drawn to kids who are more pleasant and affectionate, and less aggressive and deviant. For example, let’s say you have twin babies. One screams 24/7 and the other coos sweetly in your arms.  Well guess what? The screaming one is toast.

Parents also tend to feel closer to children of the same gender and personality type, and favor their biological kids over stepchildren.  In addition, parents usually have a soft spot for their first- and lastborn (at some point, the first- and lastborn have their parents all to themselves).  Generally speaking, it’s the firstborns who get all the perks due to the emotional and physical investment that goes into having the first baby.

Favoritism manifests itself in how much time, affection, privilege, or discipline you give one child compared to another.  The problem is that kids who are blatantly disfavored by their parents experience terrible outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance.  On the opposite side of the coin, children who are favored tend to develop a sense of arrogance and entitlement, which makes them terribly disliked by their siblings and totally unprepared for the real world.

So, how can a parent avoid showing favoritism?

1. When one kid is looking for a leg up, pick up everybody’s leg.

The irony is that every kid wants to feel like they’re different and special in their own way.  Your job is to do that without making them compete with each other.  When one of your kids asks, “Am I the best swimmer in the family?,” respond by saying, “I think you’re the best swimmer, and George is the best baseball player, and Mary is the best painter,” etc.  That way, each of your children has the mentality that he or she is the best, but so are their siblings.  There’s no favoritism shown because everybody’s the best at something.  Try to divvy out your love and affection equally, but continue highlighting each child’s uniqueness.

2. It’s not personal – it’s situational.

  • If you have a new baby at home, explain to your older child, “Your brother is a newborn. He can’t roll over or even scratch his butt – he can’t do anything.  So for a while, it’s going to look like we’re paying more attention to him, but you can scratch your butt and he can’t.”  Your older child will think this is hilarious, and they’ll get the picture (and wait for the day that their brother’s hand reaches behind his back…)
  • If one of your children is physically ill or disabled, inevitably there is going to be unequal treatment.  Make it clear to your other kids that you are not choosing the disabled child over them, but that their sibling’s condition simply requires more attention.  Reassure your other kids that it’s not personal – it’s just situational.